A year of hard choices – and intelligent debate

Already 2011 is turning into a strange and uncomfortable year. The discomfort has been widely predicted, and many are already experiencing it as regeneration programmes have ended, community infrastructure is under threat and jobs are being lost.

What is strange is not that this is happening. It is that we’ve been protected from it for so long.

The old certainties are rapidly disappearing. We used to have a government that was frustratingly bureaucratic but at least appeared to aim in the right direction. We now have one that faces multiple ways and appears unable to differentiate between ministerial platitudes and the real experience of people in disadvantaged communities.

We have a dysfunctional economy that looks increasingly incapable of producing the standards of living and public services that we have taken for granted. The nirvana of the knowledge economy has given way to a realisation that we built our economic edifices on one bubble after another – property speculation, international financial gambling and public investment on the never-never through off-balance-sheet trickery like the private finance initiative.

The response from the coalition government has been a faith in private sector growth that would be touchingly naive were it not accompanied by the willful destruction of much that binds society together – the public and community services that, far from being ‘non-jobs’, make a real impact on people’s lives where it matters.

The mantra of ‘more for less’ is not up to the task we now face. Apart from the sheer nonsense of implying that there is some sort of causal connection between less and more, it replaces creative and intelligent thinking with the logic of the treadmill. Work harder! Run faster! Raise yourselves to new heights of Stakhanovite exertion and be grateful when somebody pins a medal on your chest.

So this year we have some hard choices. We can get angry and fight, as many in the trade union movement and student activists would like to do. There is an urgent need to argue against the worst of the cuts, but we should be careful – while campaigns against the axing of schemes like Bookstart can bring out cultural heavyweights like Philip Pullman and Andrew Motion, who’s going to fight for gypsies and travellers, council tenants and destitute asylum seekers? We risk a series of battles in which only those with the loudest voices survive.

We could decide instead to play along with the coalition’s approach in the hope that we can have some influence where it matters. Many are already doing this – partly because there are some genuinely well-meaning people in government, partly because diplomacy works better where there is trust, and partly because those closer to government are most likely to be able to earn a living in times when a living might be hard to come by.

Alternatively, we could choose the risky option. We could choose to stand by those who have nobody to fight for them. We could choose to question lifestyle aspirations that serve a comfortable majority while leaving a large slice of the population struggling. We could have an honest debate about reframing the social contract in a way that both demands a proportionate contribution from everybody and values and respects that contribution. We could recognise that turning the clock back to 2007 is not an option and we are moving into a riskier, more unpredictable time where we all need to take more responsibility for the collective choices we make.

It is a time in which intelligent debate and a willingness to examine preconceptions about regeneration, economic development and society will be vital. CLES and New Start are well placed to be leaders in that debate.


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13 years ago


I share your concerns.

I think there is an irony at play here. At the very time when need is greatest as regards the broad issues we face, and thus, a desperate need for fresh thinking there is a lack of resource on the ground! In this scenario the only option is to do things for ourselves more, learn form each other, break down silos between us all and start big collective actions.

These online pages are a small start in this and our subscribers and members are our source material and give us a distinctive voice.

CLES is independent and through our Board, members and policy channels will always seek to aggregate (where appropriate) and push lessons outwards and upwards to policy power. But we need to do even more!

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